The first new conversionist interview for the new year is another first for EV Gearbox; A motorcycle !
Name, age, occupation and location ?
Dale Coyner, 47, Writer, Herndon, VA
Could you tell us a little bit about your history with bikes ?
I’ve been riding a little over twenty years. I like to travel by motorcycle and I’ve written a couple of books about that.
What got you interested in Electric Vehicles Dale ?
A lot of my friends were into building custom ICE bikes but that never appealed to me. I’ve always been interested in electric stuff. When I was a kid, I built an electric motor out of scrap metal and copper phone wire for the windings. It was just so cool to think I could create something that worked out of junk parts. So my interest in electric-related stuff eventually combined with my interest in motorcycles. Seeing how much the technology have evolved even in the past five years made me think it would be fun to create a custom bike, but one that was electric powered. I still have that motor, BTW, and it still works. Probably one of the most lasting things I ever built, and that was at age 12. I peaked early.
What were your aims for this project ?
At a minimum, I wanted to build something that would feel like a motorcycle, that is, it would be fun to ride. Second, I wanted something that I could actually use. If you’re going to put several $K into a bike, it has to be able to do something to justify that expense.
My ultimate goal is to build something I can attempt to use for touring. It will require quite a different style. I realize I can’t turn 300 or 400 mile days like I do on my gas bike, but if I can stuff enough batteries in it to run 100 miles on a charge, I could take it out for a weekend camping trip, as long as I have a campsite with electric.
The conversion was pretty simple. The hardest part was probably pulling the bike apart and getting rid of the ICE motor, components, and all those fluids. The most critical part was finding a good position for the motor and lining it up with the rear wheel. I used cardboard to mock up a motor, motor mount, batteries, and controller to get a sense of what would fit where.
What advice would you have for someone thinking about converting a bike ?
For those who are thinking about building an EV, building an electric motorcycle is an easy first step because it doesn’t take as much room, has fewer systems to sort out (no AC, no hydraulics, etc.) and some folks have built them very inexpensively.
However, think a motorcycle conversion requires more consideration for weight balance and attention to detail because the consequences of an ill-handling two wheeler or of catastrophic failure on a two-wheeler are more severe than a vehicle that’s firmly planted. Plus, you’re seated right on top of everything, so I think there’s extra incentive to make sure you’ve got proper fusing/safety systems in place, clean wiring runs, etc.
Finally, if you do build one, and you don’t have any riding experience, you do need to treat it just like a regular bike which means getting training, getting licensed, and always wearing the right gear. If you don’t want to do those things, and you don’t want to wear a helmet, then you’re better off building an EV car.
Could you tell us about the bike’s direct drive arrangement ?
I think pretty much all bike conversions are direct drive. Transmissions are usually built in the same case as the motor, and really, given the light weight of the bike and the RPM range of modern motors, you don’t really need a transmission. I have experimented with front sprockets ranging from 10 teeth to 16 teeth and a rear sprocket with 60 teeth, so I can go from a 1:6 ratio to a 1:375. I think I’m most comfortable running the 15/60 combination which gives me a 1:4 ratio.
What was the deciding factor to go with AC ?
I’ve read a lot about all the different types of motors but felt that for what I wanted, AC represented the best choice for me because it doesn’t require brush maintenance, it is very efficient, and capable of high rpms. I like the regen capability for the fact that it creates the feeling of engine compression when I roll off the throttle. I don’t think it represents a large energy recapture, but it makes the bike feel like a bike.
Could you describe the motor and controller and why you picked them ?
I purchased an AC-15 motor made by High Performance Golf Cars and a Curtis 1238-7501 controller. In short, I felt like if I bought the best motor, it would be pretty much future proof. I think the largest gains are to be made in battery technology, so if I bought the best motor/controller I could afford now, I would not need to upgrade those later. I liked the fact that the AC-15 has a top RPM of about 7500. That would allow me to travel comfortably at highway speeds when needed without feeling like I am pushing the bike to its limits. I am turning about 3000-3500 RPM at 55-60 mph.
Where did you source them ?
I purchased the motor and controller from Thunderstruck EV out of Sebastopol, CA.
What will the weight of the LiFePo pack be ?
If I go with the plan to use 100 AH LifePO batteries, I think that works out to something around 168 lbs. I think that’s around 40% of the weight a comparable SLA pack would run. I don’t plan to build a 100 AH SLA pack, so I’m not sure.
Are there any EV Bikes/riders that inspired you ?
Yes, absolutely. As I said, I’ve always been interested in electronics and have ridden motorcycles for a long time, but I never put the two together until I saw what a friend of mine built. His name is Brian Richardson and he’s the builder of the Norton Electra. I’ve known Brian for a long time and I’ve always known he was a tinkerer and restorer, but one day, BAM, I hear he’s built an electric-powered bike and it was just amazing. I was really struck by how quickly it accelerated, and of course, with how quiet it was. He did a super-clean job, which is vintage Brian, and it really got me thinking about what I could do. I shot a video of him demoing the bike at a motorcycle council meeting in Richmond.
Here is that link: http://bit.ly/NortonElectra
Do you have a favourite story about building or riding ?
There’s no one specific thing, I would just say that I’ve had a lot of fun building this and I’m looking forward to doing more with it. My son has helped a little and he likes riding it around the neighborhood. I like watching people stare as I whiz by quietly, and it really seems to fool dogs. They seem to associate a loud noise with bikes, but when I slip past, they just kind of stare, like the people who are walking them.
What do your friends think of the bike ?
One of my friends kept saying I’d never do it, then when I started it, I would never finish it. So it’s been rewarding to build this and ride it if for no other reason than to shut him up. But they like it. They’re secretly envious, I think.
What improvements are in store from this point ?
Getting the lithium batteries in it will really mark the turning point from a running prototype to a completed bike. When that’s done, I’d like to completely disassemble it and then do a frame-up restoration/repaint on the bike to make it look as stock, and as complete as possible.
Have you seen any of the TTGXP races ? (http://www.egrandprix.com/)
Yes, I’ve really enjoyed those. Brian campaigned a new Norton build in 2010 and had three podium finishes. That’s pretty impressive, I think, for a guy who’s building bikes on his farm in rural Virginia. Over time I’m sure factory teams will overtake the independent guys, but he’s done something few others can claim. He just sent me a clip of his electric bike competing against a field of ICE bikes at the Barber Motorsports Complex in Birmingham. Here’s a link to that clip: http://bit.ly/ElectraRace
Is there anything else you’d like to add ?
I would just recommend that for those thinking about building an EV bike, there’s a great resource at www.elmoto.net , a forum that is dedicated to electric bike builds.
Thanks Dale :)
You can see more of Dale’s bike, including videos, here –